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Middlebury community remembers fiber artist Suzanne Douglas' creativity and generosity

Vibrant gold, red, green and blue yarns are woven into a hooked rug to depict a tiger and lion kitten playing.
Henry Sheldon Museum
Suzanne Douglas was a master craftsperson who excelled at hooked rugs and other fiber arts. She sold her pieces in the Henry Sheldon Museum gift shop, as well as included them as items in fundraisers and auctions for the museum. Douglas passed away in Middlebury in January.

In the early 19th century, strips of wool were saved and then repurposed to create rugs to warm the floors in chilly New England homes. This was a craft at which Middlebury resident Suzanne Douglas excelled.

Douglas was a professional craftsperson — a weaver, rug and quiltmaker. She was a member of the statewide Twist o' Wool Guild, based in Bristol, and generously shared her talent by teaching others fiber arts at various workshops.

Suzanne Douglas was 74 when she passed away last month.

A person with curly, short hair and wearing glasses uses a tool to push yard through burlap to create a rug.
Amy Oxford
Using a special punching tool here, Douglas is shown creating a rug with yarns and fibers.

Though she didn't have a car, Douglas was known throughout Middlebury, walking from place to place and creating community wherever she went.

In her life as a craftsperson, she elevated simple strips of fabric scraps into rustic artwork. Loops of brown and tan cloth that she pulled through a stiff burlap backing became a tableau of a sly fox eyeing juicy, purple grapes.

Amy Oxford first met Douglas in 1994, when she worked at Oxford's store, Red Clover Rugs, at Frog Hollow in Middlebury. She said Douglas was always generous with her time — and her craft supplies.

"She shared a lot of yarns she wasn't using, and they were beautiful yarns," Oxford said. "You know, she didn't just share scraps. She shared really wonderful, fancy yarns."

Oxford said Douglas helped hundreds of customers choose colors for their own craft projects, relying on her unusual color sense.

"She could match the look of a rug from the 1800s or pick something really wonderful and wild," Oxford said.

Douglas was a northern New York native. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History in 1971, and went on to receive a Master of Library Science from SUNY Albany in 1972. Douglas then worked as a high school librarian.

A hooked rug made from multi-colored yarns depicts a brown fox eyeing purple grapes.
Henry Sheldon Museum
Douglas made this hooked rug with multi-colored yarns.

In 1999, she began what would become a 20 year stretch at Middlebury's Henry Sheldon Museum. Douglas first worked as a librarian there. Most recently, she was the front desk greeter. She also sold her art pieces in the gift shop.

Oxford said Douglas had a precision with language.

"She never assumed or stumbled. She could always find the right word. Maybe that was the librarian in her," Oxford said. "She was a big chatter and a great storyteller. She had all kinds of fun anecdotes, and the customers just loved her. But you know, she wasn't just a good talker. She was also a really good listener. And I think that endeared her to a lot of people."

Coco Moseley, the executive director at the Henry Sheldon Museum, remembered Douglas' presence in the museum.

"She had iconic blue eyeshadow that she always wore," Moseley said. "She really was the face that folks saw when they entered the big front doors of the museum. She would greet folks, get them oriented to the museum, share the history of the Henry Sheldon Museum, and offer any kind of tidbits of guidance as they went through the space."

Moseley said Douglas connected with people of all ages and backgrounds. When she sent word of Douglas' passing out to the museum community, she heard back from many, including one family whose 5-year-old was a frequent museum goer and loved seeing Douglas behind the front desk.

"It was such a reminder, I think, of the ways somebody can have ongoing, consistent impact on their community through just their engagement ... and in what happens here in everyday life," Moseley said.

This spring, the museum community, along with Twist o' Wool Guild, will hold a gathering at the Sheldon for Douglas, and feature a collection of about 30 of her rugs.

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Corrected: February 13, 2024 at 10:58 AM EST
An earlier version of this story included a misspelling of Coco Moseley's name. It has been updated with the correct spelling.
Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
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